Rollins College graduation speech by valedictorian with autism

Rollins College celebrated its spring class of 2022 this weekend and its valedictorian delivered an inspirational speech without actually saying a word.Elizabeth Bonker lost her ability to speak just 15 months after being diagnosed with autism. Bonker delivered the valedictorian speech at Rollins College through a text-to-speech computer program. “I am one of the lucky few non-speaking autistics who have been taught to type,” Bonker said during the ceremony. “That one critical intervention unlocked my mind from its silent cage enabling to communicate and to be educated.”Four other valedictorians nominated Bonker to deliver the speech in front of her graduating class of more than 500 students.”God gave you a voice. Use it,” Bonker said. “Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”Bonker’s mother Virginia Breen joined her daughter for a Zoom interview with WESH 2 after the ceremony. “I am not special. All non-speaking students with autism can be taught to type,” Bonker said. “That is my mission. We need to change the way the world sees autism. Just because someone cannot speak doesn’t mean they can’t feel and think.”It was an extra special Mother’s Day for Breen as she watched her daughter take center stage before delivering the big speech. “I’m just going to burst into tears,” Breen said. “I think because it was such a long journey for us you know there were times which felt a bit hopeless.”Bonker said she’ll always be hopeful that people will remember to serve for others just like her mother did by never giving up. “Parents with children with autism, I hope that what they may take away from Elizabeth’s story is that their children are capable and that we need to keep investing in them, advocating for them, believing in them,” Breen said. Bonker is continuing her service after graduation with her nonprofit Communication 4 All aspiring to make communication accessible to the 31 million people worldwide with nonspeaking autism.

Rollins College celebrated its spring class of 2022 this weekend and its valedictorian delivered an inspirational speech without actually saying a word.

Elizabeth Bonker lost her ability to speak just 15 months after being diagnosed with autism. Bonker delivered the valedictorian speech at Rollins College through a text-to-speech computer program.

“I am one of the lucky few non-speaking autistics who have been taught to type,” Bonker said during the ceremony. “That one critical intervention unlocked my mind from its silent cage enabling to communicate and to be educated.”

Four other valedictorians nominated Bonker to deliver the speech in front of her graduating class of more than 500 students.

“God gave you a voice. Use it,” Bonker said. “Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”

Bonker’s mother Virginia Breen joined her daughter for a Zoom interview with WESH 2 after the ceremony.

“I am not special. All non-speaking students with autism can be taught to type,” Bonker said. “That is my mission. We need to change the way the world sees autism. Just because someone cannot speak doesn’t mean they can’t feel and think.”

It was an extra special Mother’s Day for Breen as she watched her daughter take center stage before delivering the big speech.

“I’m just going to burst into tears,” Breen said. “I think because it was such a long journey for us you know there were times which felt a bit hopeless.”

Bonker said she’ll always be hopeful that people will remember to serve for others just like her mother did by never giving up.

“Parents with children with autism, I hope that what they may take away from Elizabeth’s story is that their children are capable and that we need to keep investing in them, advocating for them, believing in them,” Breen said.

Bonker is continuing her service after graduation with her nonprofit Communication 4 All aspiring to make communication accessible to the 31 million people worldwide with nonspeaking autism.